The kebab ban

Asian Games upsets locals

The kebab ban

Bus stops: motorists blame the new BRT for increased traffic jams

Athletes wouldn’t normally list kebabs as part of their training regime. That’s just as well because they won’t be able to buy any in Guangzhou during the upcoming Asian Games. Nor in 11 surrounding cities.

The move comes as the Guangdong provincial government seeks to ensure clear air for the athletics event – which runs from November 12 through November 28. Accordingly, they’ve banned barbecue stalls in and around the city, reckoning they pollute the skies. That means the meaty fare will be off the menu till December 20, when the kebab vendors will be permitted to take to the streets again.

“It’s absurd,” Guangzhou resident Yang Yunfan told the Global Times, noting that stalls produce some smoke but don’t “contaminate the environment”.

WiC tends to agree: surely there are other pollutants that China’s most industrialised province might do better to focus on?

But Yang’s gripe is just the latest in a litany of complaints among residents about the hassle of hosting the Asian Games.

The city’s government may have erected its stadiums and sporting facilities well ahead of time – emulating Beijing’s performance for the 2008 Olympics, and again showing how the Chinese do this type of thing better than India (see WiC80).

But comparison with New Delhi’s recent (and heavily criticised) Commonwealth Games can be made in another respect. In both cases the local populations seem to be questioning the cost of such events and whether hosting them is worth the disruption they bring to their daily lives.

The 16th Asian Games will see 11,500 athletes participate in 42 sports. But as Southern Weekly reports, local residents have been giving the event “the cold shoulder”, as well as complaining about its cost (apparently Rmb120 billion or $17.9 billion).

Sports Weekly adds that unlike Beijingers – whose patriotic enthusiasm for the Olympics ran high – the people of Guangzhou don’t have nearly as much “passion” for the sporting extravaganza they’re hosting.

“There is endless criticism of all Asian Games projects,” Sports Weekly notes. “Guangzhouers have clearly perceived the inconvenience the Asian Games has brought to them, such as the traffic jams becoming more serious.”

Indeed, motorists say the snarl-ups on roads resulting from Games-related construction have become a “serious nuisance”, reports West China Commercial Daily. Guangzhou has invested more than Rmb2 billion in a new BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system. But in building it, traffic has been so disrupted that the new system is known locally as ‘Bu Rang Tong’, or dead end.

The Cantonese are famous for their black humour. But they are less famous for protesting. However, in January a man wearing a mask and sunglasses walked into Guangzhou’s People’s Square and handed out leaflets. He asked why city officials were building so many of the new ‘vanity’ roads for the Games using granite – a building material far more costly than the usual concrete. “Why don’t the government improve our education and health with the money instead,” his placard asked.

His protest became widely talked about, and an embarrassed local government canned the use of granite on a further 115km of new roads it planned to build under the Games programme, saving Rmb51.75 million. In a further move to appease public opinion, the director of the Guangzhou Urban and Rural Construction Committee made his mobile phone number public. He told citizens disturbed by Games construction to text message him to complain.

An admirable intention: although the construction director must have regretted his openness. His number was soon deluged by anxious citizens. Not just to report stories of personal inconvenience either; also to offer their views on the waste of taxpayer funds and suspicions of corruption.

In fact, for many locals the whole thing is just another example of how bureaucrats love grand projects (see WiC60).

Such bureaucratic blowouts seem to pass muster if they stimulate a local sense of pride and achievement – as was the case in Shanghai with the just-concluded six month-long Expo.

But the people of Guangzhou seem to have concluded differently, says Sports Weekly. For them, the Asian Games is a non-event. “There are not enough world class stars and there is no opponent in Asia that threatens our position in the medals table,” the magazine writes. The damning summing up: “The Asian Games is entirely a training exercise for the London Olympics in 2012.”

Any positives to be drawn? West China Commercial Daily says the fact that Guangzhou’s Asian Games building projects have been so questioned indicates “that Guangdong has a higher transparency of information and its people have channels to express their opinions.”

Southern Weekly agrees, saying the fact that bureaucrats have listened to some of the complaints shows a flowering of civic society. After all, China’s economic reform and opening process began near the southern city and once again the metropolis looks to be at the cutting edge. “Citizens dare to express their opinions,” says Southern Weekly. “Giving the Games the cold shoulder demonstrates the confidence of [the people of] Guangzhou.”

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